Enterprising Technicians Go On Training Trek
For some dealers and integrators, the quest for training might as well be a search for the lost ark, or a pan for flakes of gold along a river. The drumbeat drones on of authorities, experts and others in the industry emphasizing the need to get training – but that’s something that has proven easier said than done.
Security professionals face the dilemma of having difficulty finding time to devote to education, or having trouble finding training at all.
The welcome news is that the cost of not getting training far outweighs the price of not doing so, and it is the urban legend of the alarm industry that there is a lack of training opportunities. It just takes a bit of effort to find it. Once a person does, they get hooked.
“It’s like a restaurant. You have to eat the food to find out if it’s good or bad,” says Stephanie Ackley, manager of training services for Clovis, Calif.-based CCTV manufacturer Pelco. “Training is one of those things where you don’t know how good it is until you try it.”
As technology moves forward and awareness continues to grow of security and life safety, there is an increasing urgency for the alarm industry to embrace professionalism and keep installers up to speed on the best ways to install systems. Contrary to popular belief, there is an abundance of training available – it just takes some work to find it.
The costs of training range from a couple of hundred dollars to only the cost of travel, and many would be surprised by the nonmonetary costs of not doing training at all. The training itself differs between that of manufacturers and that of associations and private entities, as well as between specific product education and overall training.
Lost in the hunt for training resources? Read on for a primer on how to find technical and product education, and how to benefit from it.
Excuses Not to Seek Education Don’t Hold Up to Facts
“Why should I get training? I already know all I need to know!”… “Training? I just can’t afford to take myself and my other technicians away from their work.” … “I don’t have the hundreds of dollars it would take for the course, the travel and the room.”
Those are just a few of the excuses some dealers and integrators make when it comes to avoiding training. All three have little basis in fact. With changing technology and the IT world now reaching into electronic security, it’s tough for one to say they know all they need to know.
As for the lost time for technicians, experts say that an untrained installer who doesn’t take the time off could cost more to a dealer than a trained one who does.
On the costs front, most manufacturers offer free training courses, and some will pay for everything but travel. Even travel costs can be wiped out entirely with many of the basic training offerings now online.
David Avritt, owner and founder of alarm monitoring company SentryNet, in Pensacola, Fla., says the alarm industry is at a maturing point where it needs to become more professional. “We’re in the life-safety business,” he says. “People’s lives are at stake and we owe it to them to be the best professionals we can be.”
Those who advocate training have a misperception to overcome: Training is seen as only being needed by those new to the industry. If someone counts his years of experience in double digits, why take a course in alarm installation?
“I get calls every day like this: ‘I’ve been in the biz for 25 years. Why do I need to go to training?’” says Dale Eller, director of education for the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) in Irving, Texas. “You can be in business for 25 years and not know what you’re doing. You could have been doing it wrong for 25 years.”
Gary Texeira, a project manager for Henry Bros. Electronics Inc. in Fullerton, Calif., was one of the skeptics. He had years behind him managing products when he entered the Security Industry Association’s (SIA) Certified Security Product Manager (CSPM) program. Texeira says he changed his stance after completing the course, and says his experience applies to any experienced professional concerning training.
“For someone who was in the industry a long time and came out with a new outlook, I would say anyone would benefit from this,” says Texeira, who adds that the course he took is now just about a mandatory prerequisite for all project managers at Henry Bros. “This is not only going to help their company, it will help the industry make strides forward.”
There is another big reason for veteran installers to go back to school: IT. Internet technology and other computer networking skills weren’t even science fiction yet when many veteran dealers entered the business. However, having at least a basic knowledge of IT may make the difference between advancing a business further or forcing retirement.
“In these IP [Internet protocol]-connected times, it’s going to be almost impossible for a dealer to be successful without continuous technical training,” says Jonathan Kelley, who helps conduct training classes at CCTV manufacturer Dedicated Micros’ Torrance, Calif., office. “Security services and networking are joined forever now, so basic networking skills are mandatory for the sales professional as well as the technician.”
Training May Be a Mouse Click or Phone Call Away
Is the common assertion that there is a lack of electronic security training nothing more than an urban myth? Connie Moorhead seems to think so.
Moorhead is president and co-founder of Louisville, Ky.-based The CMOOR Group, which consults with manufacturers and others in the alarm industry on formulating their training courses. She says the case is not that there’s a lack of training out there, but a lack of effort in finding it.
“It’s an awareness issue. We can see there is training that is out there. There could always be more, but access is a problem,” Moorhead says. “Sometimes people just need to look for it and we on the education side need to do a better job of making people aware of it.”
John Honovich, president of Maximum Level Physical Protection Systems of Clearwater, Fla., managed to find training and survived to tell the tale. He says apathy is the true stumbling block to training, not availability.
“Among the uneducated and unprofessional, there is too much apathy. Quality professionals embrace training,” Honovich says. “Outstanding training exists. People need to spend more attention to learning and participating in the many options available.”
The least of the problems in the search for training is finding product-specific instruction. Most, if not all, of the major manufacturers offer some kind of product training – many for little to no cost. The same phone numbers dealers call seeking product information could work just as well to find training.
“The dealer may be surprised at the training that is out there at no cost,” Moorhead says. Dealers and integrators need only to call their manufacturer and ask if training is available for the product they have purchased.
“There’s training all over the place. You have to dig a bit deeper if you don’t think there is,” says Liz Levine, director of knowledge services for GE Infrastructure, Securit
y in Bradenton, Fla. “It’s easy to find product training.”
That’s the easy way to get product-specific training, but what about job-specific training? Courses like Level 1 Certified Alarm Technician or Level 2 Practical Electronics courses?
The good news is that in the past few years, training opportunities in this area have multiplied. On the negative side, on-site classes may be hundreds of miles away and there are many more costs involved than manufacturer-sponsored training.
However, thanks to one Web site, finding that training is as easy as clicking a mouse.
SIA’s Security Learning Network, located at www.securitylearningnetwork. com, lists a multitude of job-specific training resources and helps dealers and integrators sign up for them.
“One of the best things out there is the Security Learning Network and most people don’t know about it,” says Avritt. “All associations have developed courses but didn’t do a good enough job selling them. This is a place for everybody to put their courses.”
Among the training resources highlighted on the learning network site is the National Training School (NTS), run by NBFAA. With a pool of more than 120 instructors, NTS is the largest resource available to dealers and integrators for standardized training from basic Level 1 to advanced courses.
On top of the associations, several private entities are taking up the demand for training, while distribution firms like ADI and Tri-Ed also offer educational opportunities. Trade shows and seminars – like the International Security Conference (ISC) West and East – offer educational courses that can even count toward continuing education units (CEUs).
On top of that, the need to travel is being minimized by the introduction of several courses online (see sidebar on page 40).
“The fact of the matter is it’s not the availability of training that’s the question, it’s the desire,” Eller says. “If someone says they can’t find training, I would challenge them. It’s out there.”
For a sample of some training programs being offered to dealers and integrators, see the listing on page 44.
Lack of Training Could Cost More Than Getting Trained
Even after a dealer or integrator has been able to find training and figures out the means to get their technicians to the training site, cost is still a huge impediment standing in the way of a more professional industry. The costs aren’t just the monetary costs of travel and course fees, but the nonmonetary costs of lost time and reduced manpower.
Nevertheless, those are all shortterm costs. Having a well-trained work force can prove to be a longterm way to save money on reinstalls and service failures, while getting increased revenue from having more credibility than one’s competitors.
An alarm dealer can afford the lost time much more than they can afford to remedy an error-filled installation, or the extra time a nontrained installer takes completing a task a trained technician could handle with their eyes closed. A well-trained crew of installers could be the alarm business equivalent of having a force of soldiers on motorbikes taking on a competition made up of tykes on bikes with training wheels.
“You will find that if you invest in your people, they are likely to be more loyal because they feel you are helping them to be successful in what they do,” says Pelco’s Ackley. “This small investment of time and money shows returns in your employees and with your customers, who receive better more efficient service. Producing loyalty in customers and employees will reward you many times beyond what you paid for it.”
Most standardized training courses also include sessions that go beyond just the nuts and bolts of equipment and installation, and emphasize that installers will deal with human beings as much as they do electronics. Classes include pointers on marketing a company, as well as methods of interacting with the end user and educating them on the right way to use an alarm system.
While the rates for manufacturer sponsored training are usually low, if not free, standardized testing courses like those conducted by NTS can range from $100 to $200.
No matter the price, it’s a bargain compared to the costs of a poor installation. Not only could such a malpractice cost an alarm firm the expenditures involved in a reinstall, it could also conceivably cost a customer their property or even their lives – not to mention a lawsuit for the alarm company.
“Imagine a $1,000 mistake on one job forces the security dealer to do a $56,000 job for free to make up this loss,” says Nadim Sawaya, who developed SIA’s CSPM program. “If security dealers understand this fact, they will be looking at employee training as the most important investment they can ever make.
Untrained employees cost security dealers 10 times the investment they make on training.”
Like any business, alarm dealers always have to keep their bottom line in mind, but there are some who have it more as the focus of their business than others.
There’s not much that can be done to convince the owner of an alarm company to pay money and manpower to train their technicians when they are looking at spending as little as possible on the work they do. These are also the companies that spend little on service, little on equipment and do little for their customers other than provide a yard sign. That approach also does little for the industry.
It comes down to companies not looking at training as an expense, but as an investment.
“Let’s not talk about the costs, let’s talk about the return,” Moorhead says. “When that trained person is back in the field selling and their sales are up 25 percent, that return on investment is much more than the time lost.”
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